Why It's So Hard to Get Ahead!

A story that I wrote for USA Today about Gen X-ers and their money troubles appeared this week in the newspaper. Here is the link.

A couple of things amazed me about the story. One was the reaction of readers. The article triggered about 900 comments and a lot of them seemed to be from older Americans –baby boomers on up — who had little sympathy for the younger generation. Some of the comments were quite mean. I suppose it’s easy to be a jerk when you are hiding behind an anonymous sign-on.

What I also found fascinating when working on the article was research by Elizabeth Warren, a law professor at Harvard University. Her research illustrated why it’s so hard–regardless of your age — to get ahead even if you follow the stock advice about cutting back on Starbucks and other frills to save money.

Using federal consumer price figures, Warren was able to determine that since 1970s, many of the things we purchase routinely have gone down in price. Things like food, appliances, dry cleaning and clothing.

Of course, those are the types of things that are the easiest to cut back on during hard times. You can substitute a jar of peanut butter for the London broil you really wanted to buy. You don’t have to drop your favorite pair of pants off at the corner dry cleaner.

Perversely, the expenditures that are far harder to cut back on — if at all — are the one that have skyrocketed. They include health insurance, child care, mortgages and cars. The cost of owning and maintaining a car has actually declined since 1970, but since couples now need two vehicles to get to work the cost has jumped.

You can watch her presentation of the research, which she entitled, The Coming Collapse of the Middle Class, at this link:

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